Last week I invited a friend over to my house for coffee and a catch up. My friend is in his sixties, and has been a nurse longer than I have been alive. He is a dual registered adult and mental health nurse and incredibly well read. Our conversation (as it often does) turned to the future of nursing and the UK and how can we address some of the big challenges facing the profession, and as part of this we got talking about the books that had had the biggest impact on the way we nurse and how we think about nursing. My friend pointed me in the direction of a couple of books from the late eighties and early nineties about ‘psychiatric nursing’ (more commonly known as mental health nursing today of course). After some high-level internet searching for these books I was able to find old copies on sale for under a fiver each, and at the time of writing I am awaiting their delivery.
This got me thinking; why does the academic and professional arm of nursing often shun old books or ideas just because they are old? In my life I have studied Law, American Studies, Nursing, and Leadership & Management and nursing stands alone as the subject with the biggest aversion to its written past. I know of some lecturers will award lower marks in assignments to student nurses that use references from earlier than the mid 2000’s!
Simply put here’s my view: we learn from the past in ways that are not directly linked to the hard-boiled topic at hand. Yes techniques, inventions, cures, and practices have evolved and improved (mostly); but we learn far more from that in reviewing older nursing texts and ideas. We learn about the attitudes and culture at the time. We learn about the challenges of the day and how they were addressed. We get to see our ancestry. We in many ways get to see a reflection of nursing, and thus ourselves warts ‘n’ all.